New Stadiums Vital in Quest for Ball Clubs

Article excerpt

LANSING, Mich. -- Minor league baseball teams are learning a lesson from big-time sports franchises: A fancy new stadium means more profit.

After an agreement with major league clubs six years ago forced minor league clubs and their host cities to upgrade stadiums, minor league teams are hopping from city to city in search of the best stadium agreements.

Since teams know that new stadiums with the latest amenities can make money-losing franchises profitable, they don't hesitate to move. Finding new hosts isn't a problem: Since the 1990 agreement, 56 minor league stadiums were built or are planned.

`'Cities are being held hostage," said Arthur T. Johnson, a professor at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, who has studied the business of minor league baseball for the past decade. "They either build a new stadium or the clubs will move on to a city that will.''

The Class A Lansing, Mich., Lugnuts, is one team that moved.

The franchise, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, was losing money, drawing about 50,000 fans a season playing in a decades-old stadium in Springfield, Ill., said owner Tom Dixon.

Lansing offered him a new $13 million stadium with 26 luxury boxes. Dixon accepted.

`'We are on pace to draw over 500,000 fans this season,'' he said. `'It's been incredible.''

The city, meanwhile, is paying for the stadium with money that it generates, including a $1.5 million 15-year agreement with General Motors Corp. to call the field Oldsmobile Park.

Even with the expected 10-fold increase in attendance, Dixon said his team isn't generating a huge profit. `'It merely means we have gone from a team that was posting large losses to one making a profit," he said.

The story is similar around the U.S., from Lake Elsinore, Calif., to Batavia, N.Y. New state-of-the-art minor league stadiums are popping up all over. They range from 4,500 seats to 40,000 and cost from $4 million to more than $50 million.

One of those facilities to open in the not-too-distant future is the Ballpark in Bricktown, one of the Metropolitan Area Projects for downtown Oklahoma City. …